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While billions of dollars are being spent in literacy programmes in developing countries, it is sad to see that there are hardly any concrete results. Even in places where 50% or 60% of the population is literate, we see that not many of those ‘literates’ are successfully employed. There are instances of business tycoons who could be considered illiterate in the surveys conducted but none can deny that they have established business empires without even attending primary schools. Even highly literate business school graduates, who tried to emulate them, failed miserably in their attempts. So who would we call literate over here – those who are not literate on paper but are still able to use their skills successfully or those who are literate but fail in the same circumstances?

One main reason for the failure of literacy programs could be that they focus on the 3Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic – and go no further. Literacy should not be just about reading and writing. It should be more about developing a persons’ skills rather than making them mechanically copy letters of the alphabet. Learning should be a life long process. The stress should be on value based literacy not alphabet based literacy. The need is to teach not only to read and write but also to help them make good choices as to what to read and what to write. The emphasis should be on making them better human beings who are able to use what they learn for the good of others.

Our literacy programs should now include modern technology like computers and Internet. With the advent of user-friendly computers and the Internet, literacy programs can become self-learning programs with which each person will learn only what they are interested in. This will not only make the literacy programs customised but also make them learn faster and also retain the information longer since they are personally interested in what they learn. The use of technology like audio clips, visuals and computer games etc. will also create an urge in the participants to explore and learn. This would also solve the problems of having tutors for each group of people, since the participants will be teaching each other, if required.

If we want to turn the whole world into a place full of literate, productive human beings, instead of just concentrating on the 3R’s, we should try to develop the innate skills of the people. Only then can we say that we have attained literacy.